Teachers continue to take action

District employees remain frustrated with issues surrounding SFUSD’s payroll system and demand more equitable teacher contracts.

This morning, Mar. 20, Lowell and Lakeshore Elementary school teachers picketed at the corner of Lake Merced Blvd. and Middlefield Dr. calling for raises, improved working conditions, better student support, and fully staffed schools. 

This protest was sparked by the current negotiations between SFUSD and the United Educators of San Francisco over the new teaching contracts, according to Lowell teacher and co-building union representative Kathleen West. “[The negotiations] will hopefully help us meet some of our increasing needs here at Lowell and at other schools in the district,” West said. 

Issues have persisted surrounding EMPowerSF, SFUSD’s payroll system, which initially arose after its implementation in Jan. 2022. Lack of payment and other problems led to protests and other actions of resistance in Nov. and Dec. 2022, including a work-to-rule and protest outside of 555 Franklin St., SFUSD’s Central Office, and a school-wide sick-out. Today’s action was a continuation of educators’ efforts towards getting raises, adequate staffing, and solutions to the shortcomings of EMPowerSF. 

According to union members who attended, one of the main purposes of today’s demonstration was to increase public backing for SFUSD teachers. As teachers chanted, drivers of passing cars honked in support. Tiana Tillery, vice president for paraeducators and a paraeducator, wants to improve the public opinion on San Francisco public education. “We want to continue to support our students and have our families have faith that we’re going to be giving them quality education as they all deserve,” she said.

Darixa Varela Medrano

The teacher’s union has organized picket lines and other protests around the city in the coming days. “This week, there’s a ton of different schools who are all doing things on different days to make sure that no matter where you live, whether you have a student who’s currently attending schools or not, you’re aware that the teachers in this city are making a push to ensure that we’re able to educate every single person,” West said. 

Some teachers felt like the current contracts contributed to issues of understaffing in the district. They feel like new teachers are not incentivized to work for SFUSD. “We’ve had a lot of difficulty recruiting this year, just because the contract is not necessarily suited for new teachers and new paraeducators,” West said.

According to West, with failures surrounding payroll, some teachers are taking second jobs in order to support themselves. This has led them to feel like they cannot support students to the best of their ability. “If you can’t make a living off of what you’re having, and you have to have a second job, it takes away your ability to be there to support students outside of the regular school hours, which is really what most teachers want to do,” West said. “You’re not offering those extra hours for students who you want to support and you want to see succeed.” 

Joel Engardio, City Supervisor representing the Sunset District, sees the action as a continuation of the previous protests. “The fact that teachers have to keep coming out to protest means their needs are not being met,” Engardio said. He believes that the district needs to amend payment disputes, but also hopes that teachers can be paid more. Engardio agrees with the demonstrators’ messages about wanting fully staffed schools. “We have a teacher shortage, we need to make sure we attract teachers to San Francisco. So all of the children in our city can get a good public school education,” Engardio said. 

Yeshi-Wangmu Sherpa

Tillery fears that if these issues continue, teachers will continue to leave SFUSD. “Honestly, my biggest fear is that there’s going to be a mass exodus. More and more educators and more and more families have been leaving the school district,” Tillery said. She believes that this is affecting students, furthering the importance for teachers to have their needs met. “We have so many educators who are leaving San Francisco and going to other school districts. We want to be competitive, so that we can retain our educators,” Tillery said. “Our students deserve quality education and we’re willing to fight for it so that they’re able to have it.”